I’m just not cut out for virtual life. If the past eight-plus weeks have shown me anything about myself, it’s that tiny, pixelated, and frozen Brady Bunch squares of friends, family, and potential employers are fine when they’re occasionally supplementing actual, in-person interaction. But otherwise, get them out of my face — literally. These days, even a 10-minute Zoom call drains me of energy and viscerally upsets me. I. Am. Over. It. I know it’s the best we’ve all got right now, but that doesn’t mean I can’t hate it.
Live-streamed cocktail classes? No thanks. I want to take my time with the menu in a buzzing bistro, watching with delight as an attractive, slightly aloof bartender peels an orange for my old fashioned and makes flirtatious small talk. Living room concerts were fine for a few weeks. But how do you replicate that moment when the room goes dark and everyone collectively loses their minds in anticipation of the first chord? Or the weird combination of satisfaction and melancholy that creeps in before the encore, as you realize the show you’ve been looking forward to for months is nearly over? And I can assure you that I take absolutely no pleasure in squinting at my iPhone, trying in vain to learn each nuanced step of a dance routine through an Instagram live tutorial.
Armchair travel is a hollow, frustrating imitation of the real thing, especially when it’s to places you’ve been before. What little joy it brings to “visit” the Cours Saleya market in Nice without being able to inhale a bouquet of flowers or bite into a ripe strawberry as you speak broken French to a visibly annoyed vendor. Or take a turn on a whim to get lost down one of the colorful, graffiti-filled streets of Barcelona because you’re being guided by someone else’s camera.
When I reminisce on my favorite memories — which I’ve been clinging onto for dear life, like if I neglect to check up on them every day, they’ll just float away forever — it’s the small, unexpected things I keep coming back to. Enjoying a breakfast of brioche french toast with blueberry compote and a big side of bacon by myself at Bouchon on a beautiful, quiet spring morning in Las Vegas, as light streamed in through the open door that led out to the courtyard. Combing the racks at a vintage store in New Orleans, drunk on a Hurricane. Watching a line cook in Nashville run out from behind the bar and onto the stage to cover Muddy Waters with a harmonica. Cruising down Ocean Drive in Newport, Rhode Island with my windows open on a cloudy April afternoon, listening to Guided by Voices. Stumbling upon a man with a marionette and its real-life inspiration in Washington Square Park. Devouring a greasy slice of Mystic Pizza next to a glowing red neon sign that read “A SLICE OF HEAVEN.” A screen can’t come close, and I’m sick of it trying.
People keep saying that this soulless, distant way of life might be the future, the “new normal,”, but I refuse to believe it. We’re made to hug, and kiss, and dance at weddings, and celebrate with big slices of frosted yellow sheet cake, and multicolored confetti, and champagne bottles that pop, and wrapping paper that rips. To sing at the top of our lungs, off-key, to the song from the new album that we finally get to hear our favorite band perform live. To sit in a dark movie theater with smuggled snacks, snicker with strangers, and lose ourselves for a couple hours. To linger over a buttery chocolate croissant and a steaming cup of coffee in a snug bohemian cafe as mugs clink, keyboards click, and neighbors chatter in the background. I have no doubt that we’ll feel like ourselves again someday. But until then, please allow me to regretfully decline your Zoom invitation.